Beds forced to close

LATROBE Valley patients are facing blowouts to elective surgery waiting lists this week, after Federal Government funding cuts to the Victorian hospital system have forced ongoing bed closures at Latrobe Regional Hospital.

In attempt to shoulder a $2.2 million operational budget shortfall, LRH has been forced to extend its Christmas service activity levels, in which 20 beds closed for the festive season.

These beds will remain closed until at least the end of January.

“This has impacted on the number of elective surgeries performed… it’s estimated that 20 people a day are missing out on elective surgeries,” LRH chief executive Peter Craighead said.

Mr Craighead said the current bed closure arrangement would be reviewed at the end of the month.

LRH was awaiting the outcome of ongoing state and federal governments discussions before making any “firm closure decisions”.

Mr Craighead said the cuts had prompted a review of the entire administrative structure of the organisation, and a review of whether to fill current vacancies in non-clinical (support staff) areas.

“We have no fixed view on the outcome but are looking for any available savings and our staff will be the first to be informed of any changes,” Mr Craighead said, who was unable to specify how many positions would be affected in a possible restructure.

There was $107 million slashed from the statewide hospital sector, after Federal Treasury calculations found Victorian population levels had declined.

However, motivation for the cuts has been disputed by the State Government and LRH board.

LRH board chair Kellie O’Callaghan, who was involved in an unsuccessful LRH campaign to avert the cuts, said in December claims of a state population decline were incorrect and said LRH was experiencing increased demand on its services due to an ageing population.

In a press release earlier this week, State Health Minister David Davis said Victorian hospitals were working on plans in which staff would have to be let go as a result of the Federal funding cuts.

“Surgery lists are already being cut back, and the impact will show up in future months as more and more patients wait for their elective surgery for longer and longer periods,” Mr Davis said.

However the state’s nursing union has moved to put the latest funding cut into perspective, labelling attacks by the state government as political point scoring.

“The past two years has seen $723 million gone from Victoria’s hospital budget, 85 per cent or $616 million cut by the Baillieu Government and 15 (per cent) or $107 million cut by the Gillard Government,” Australian Nursing Federation branch secretary Lisa Fitzpatrick said in a press release on Tuesday.

“Winning the blame argument will be of little comfort to Victorians who are waiting in emergency departments, or who are suffering as they languish on elective surgery waiting lists.”